Update: Jyoti Chouhan joined the Dinamo Zagreb team on August 11 after renewing her contract for another season.

Weaving her way between the opposition in the blue kit of Dinamo Zagreb, Jyoti Chouhan cuts an imposing figure. Despite her short stature, the forward was on song when she became the first Indian footballer to score a hat-trick in a top flight European league. In May this year, she netted three goals against ZNK Agram in the Croatian First Football league – a cheeky celebration after her second goal and an absolute stunner of a finish for her third goal, curling past the goalkeeper to write seal her name in Indian football history.

“When I scored the hat-trick, I was very happy,” she said about her performance against Agram, to Scroll. “When I found out I was the only Indian girl who had scored a hat-trick (in Europe), I was thrilled.”

Now back in India, Chouhan is both happy to be back to familiar surroundings at her home in Sardarpur, in the Dhar district of Madhya Pradesh, and itching to conquer new heights. The 23-year-old, along with compatriot Soumya Guguloth had signed for Dinamo for the 2022-23 season after winning the Indian Women’s League title with Gokulam Kerala in May 2022.

But when she first went to Croatia last year, it was an unknown land for her, yet one that she now feels she knows better.


Chouhan remembered being given some material to study when she first met Dinamo coach Marija Margareta Damjanovic at the Women in Sports Elite Football Trials last year. Chouhan and Guguloth, the team’s first international players, were told to memorise a set of football terms in the Croatian language to prepare for their stint with the club.

“When I went to Croatia, I had no problem going there,” Chouhan said. “But after going there, I had some language problems and some food problems. And we had to stay in a camp for 10 days. So it was difficult for us to communicate with the team.”

But considering the former Gokulam Kerala player scored 10 goals in 18 games for Dinamo, Chouhan found her stride among players who were significantly bigger and played at a different pace than her. For the Indian, it was about going through the process one step at a time.

“I thought about doing better,” she said. “I thought about preparing mentally. I thought about scoring [at least] one goal and putting in more effort.”

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Playing in a new country, Chouhan was eager to prove herself. She did just that, helping her team finish third in the league at the end of a relatively successful season. And she also played a crucial role in the team finishing as finalists in the Croatian Women’s Cup – Chouhan even scored in the 3-2 loss to Split in the final.

“[Because] I am in a different country, I have learned that I have to work a lot,” she explained when asked about the lessons learned from her year in Croatia. “I have to work hard and prepare myself. I want to play matches, and my game and fitness has improved a lot.”

Before moving to Croatia, Jyoti Chouhan was part of the title-winning Gokulam Kerala FC team who won their second IWL title in 2022 (Courtesy: Jyoti Chouhan)


From her childhood, Chouhan had always been interested in sports and football specifically. She recalled how she would play the game with her friends although she didn’t have much of an idea about the rules.

“There was a big football ground behind my house,” she said. “There was football, basketball, all games. I played football a lot and there [used to be] a lot of crowd. When I used to go to school, I used to play football with my friends.”

According to the forward, she had picked football in her school sports class and her teacher saw some potential in her. Deciding to judge if she was truly committed to learning the sport, the teacher asked her to come to the local park at 4.45 pm one evening. The eager youngster reached 15 minutes early for the session, and every session thereon. That commitment to the sport hasn’t faded till date.

There was a time, however, when the thought occured that she would have to give up the sport.

When she was 12, her father passed away, leaving the family embroiled in financial struggle – to the point that there were questions about where the next meal would come from.

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But her mother remained unfazed in the struggle. She did not pull the budding player – the middle child among five sisters – out of the sport.

“My mother did not give up [after my father’s death] and supported me,” Chouhan said. “She wanted me to do good. My father was also happy when I was selected in the state and national camps.”

Chouhan credits her mother as one of the rocks in her life, who ignored the chatter from neighbours and those within the family about allowing her daughter to play, when “going forward she will have to get married also”.

“Meri papa mujhe ladke jaisa treat karte the aur jitna [freedom] tha utna hi dete the,” said Jyoti about her mother being adamant that her daughter would continue playing.

Considering that Chouhan isn’t the only footballer in her family, her two younger sisters also play while studying in college, it is a matter of pride for the family, who now welcome her back home like a heroine in her own right.

Although Chouhan is yet to play for the senior Indian natioanl team, her immediate priority remains securing a spot in the Dinamo team for next season. But she is not keeping her long-term targets within Croatia, she’s also looking to one day play in Brazil.

At the moment, she is content with playing football in her backyard and giving advice to young girls who come to her to learn. She’s soaking in the comforts of being at home with her family, but she has not forgotten her targets. Chouhan is still looking to to add a few more chapters in Indian footballing history.